Timpanogos Chief Antonga Black Hawk c1834-1870
Utah Black Hawk War; Timpanogos of the Wasatch
by Phillip B Gottfredson | historian & author, "Black Hawk's Mission Of Peace"
The Back Hawk War in Utah is one of the most tragic and regrettable Indian Wars in American history of the old west. Historical accounts underscore the 'extermination' of the Timpanogos Nation of the Wasatch by Mormon colonists claiming they were "heathens and savages" and had no right to their land. Indigenous to Utah and the Great Basin, the Timpanogos have not forgotten the decades of insufferable conditions while living in fear. They recall the horrifying massacre at Battle Creek, 1849. Their ancestors were brutally murdered and decapitated at Fort Utah in 1850, Bear River in 1863, and Circleville in 1866.
Some seventy thousand indigenous men, women, and children died from violence, starvation, and disease all in the name of colonization. "I do not suppose there is one in ten, perhaps not one in a hundred, now alive of those who were here when we came," said Brigham Young. Colonists stole their land and destroyed their culture over a twenty-one-year timeframe, that resulted in an astonishing 90% decrease in their population, yet no one has asked to hear their version of Utah's tradgic war.
According to Mary Meyer, Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation, historians have never asked them for their history or their perspective. Utes are from Colorado and were not in Utah until 1881 as "prisoners of war" 14 years after the Black Hawk War. The Timpanogos are not enrolled members of the Ute Tribe and never were. For more on this topic, please read The Timpanogos Ute Oxymoron page.
During the 1800s, Timpanogos' leadership consisted of seven brothers. Sanpitch, Wakara, Arapeen, Tabby, Ammon, Sowiette, and Grospeen. Early historians referred to these legendary leaders as "the privileged blood." Notorious for their leadership, they ruled every clan and village along the Wasatch. They were a powerful and prosperous Nation highly respected by all in the Territory. They had long maintained trade routes from the Columbia River to the north to the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
The Black Hawk War of Utah was not a single event. Our Timeline shows that between 1849-1872, there were more than a hundred and fifty deadly encounters with early LDS Church colonists. Forty-one occurred before 1866 when hostilities culminated in open warfare. "Confrontations were raging in all directions," said my great-grandfather Peter Gottfredson. Peter lived with the Timpanogos during the war and wrote about those tragic times in his book Indian Depredations in Utah.
Historian Will Bagley described the Black Hawk War, "It was the American frontier at it's very worst. It has nothing that celebrates our noble ancestors. It's the gritty realities of history, conflict, life, and death."
When the Mormons first arrived in 1847, conflict was unavoidable. Quoting from Walker's Statement to Indian Agent M. S.
MARTENAS July 6 1853. Chief Wakara explained, "They were friendly for a short time" said Chief Wakara, "until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly—they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites."
In a poignant conversation with Perry Murdock, a council member of the Timpanogos Nation, Perry is a direct descendant of Chief Wakara. Perry explained his Tribes' perspective of the Black Hawk War, "Every day we are reminded of what our ancestors went through, how our families were torn apart. Children murdered, the old, the women, all those who were brutally murdered and made to suffer and die from violence, then disease, then starvation, our ancestors' graves torn up, the land destroyed, it was genocide plain and simple. Why? What did we do? We didn't do anything. We were living in peace. We were happy. Our children were happy. We loved each other. We cared for each other. And when the Mormons came, we tried to help them. Then they tried to take everything away from us. They wanted it all. They wanted to exterminate us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Why? For our land? For our oil? Now we have nothing."
University of Utah Prof. Daniel McCool put it clearly, "We took from them almost all their land—the reservations are just a tiny remnant of traditional tribal homelands. We tried to take their hunting rights, their fishing rights, the timber on their land. We tried to take from them their water rights. We tried to take from them their culture, their religion, their identity, and perhaps most importantly; we tried to take from them their freedom."
Extermination of the Timpanogos Nation was not entirely due to the military prowess of Brigham Young's all Mormon militia but the destruction of the environment. In my detailed synopsis of the Black Hawk War I explain how Mormon colonialists upset the natural order of all living things by killing deer, elk, buffalo, depleting the fish population, poisoning water sources that the Timpanogos Tribe solely depended upon for food, medicines, and life-sustaining necessities. With the rapid increase in Mormon population, agricultural development, and barbwire, the Timpanogos soon ran out of territory for sanctuary. Nevertheless, the most devastating blow to the Timpanogos population was the spread of disease. Epidemics of smallpox and cholera resulted in untold numbers of deaths. Military tactics that Brigham Young knew very well. He is quoted in the Denver Rocky Mountain newspaper saying, "You can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour, than a keg of powder."
There were no 'loathsome savages' or 'heathen Indians' living in Utah until our Mormon ancestors came. There were only indigenous people, human beings living in peace. It was only when Europeans arrived then they became "savages" and "red skins."
Utah's history on the Black Hawk War has been romanticized and sanitized until - it becomes trivial. It is time to speak the truth. It is no small matter, reader. It is about aboriginal rights, human dignity, and the intrinsic value of a human being. Have we become so desensitized and petty that we can ignore our fellow man and the catastrophic losses they have sustained because of our European forefathers' colonization?
It is outrageous, in my opinion, that the Utes are blammed for a war they had no part in, and the Timpanogos Nation has been confused with the Utes and left out of Utah's indigenous history. The Timpanogos were catapulted into near extinction by Brigham Young's extermination order No.2 in 1850. Not only were they systematically forced from their ancestral homeland by Mormon colonists, who also succeeded in reducing the Timpanogos population by over 90%. They have since faced tremendous obstacles as a direct result. Scholars have said, "they are the most documented Tribe in Utah," and yet for decades, they have fought hard for Federal Recognition. They have survived severe economic issues and sovereign aboriginal rights violations that the Tenth District Court has warned the State of Utah about on numerous occasions. "They take whatever they want," said Tribal members living on the Uintah Valley Reservation, "The war over treaty rights never ends."
Throughout this website, we will discuss many aspects of the Black Hawk War, its causes, myths, and most importantly, the generational impact upon indigenous culture and, in particular, the Timpanogos Nation. For example, Chief Black Hawk's Bio describes how Utah history demonizes the Timpanogos Chief as a "renegade warrior" and "a murdering marauder," which couldn't be farther from the truth. But, of course, it's never that simple. Arguably the most compelling story of all that comes out of the war is—Black Hawk's heroic mission of peace.
It is essential to know that Native American culture is a culture of values. There are many aspects of Native American life-ways that history scholars overlook. And we cannot begin to fully grasp the impact that the war had on Utah's indigenous population until we understand the Black Hawk War from their perspective. A perfect example is found in the words of Chief Sitting Bull when he said, "The warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."
The message of Indigenous America is connection, relationship, and unity. All people are one. One of the direct living descendants of Creator. Chief Joseph said, 'We have no qualms about color. It has no meaning. It doesn't mean anything." Following decades of exhaustive research, there is no doubt in my mind that this was Black Hawk's message too, when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world in peace. In severe pain dying from a gunshot wound to his stomach, Chief Black Hawk made an epic hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback and spoke to Mormon settlers along the way pleading for peace—and to end the bloodshed. You didn't see the settlers do this. So, it took a greater man to do such a thing. This was Black Hawk's mission of peace, but it gets left out of Utah's one-sided view of history.
Honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect were the virtues he and his people honored. Being a solid leader came naturally. Black Hawk's charismatic charm befriended people from all walks of life, and his leadership skills aroused people's loyalty with enthusiasm. Black Hawk, by his example, taught that love could overcome hate. One who respected himself and appreciated others because we are all human. He understood the natural order that all inhabitants of Mother Earth are connected, what Native peoples call "the circle of life." He loved and forgave unconditionally and believed that being born human makes you superior to nothing.
Understanding Native American culture and traditions is essential for us to know when establishing meaningful relations with Native American peoples, especially for educators who have Native students in their classrooms.
How do I know these things? I lived with them; I found the truth. These are traditional teachings of the Timpanogos I learned while living with them and Native Americans throughout North and South America. But it's not about me, it's about the circle of life. I'm only the messenger.
Q: Did the Mormons try to help the Timpanogos?
In the end, members of the LDS Church robbed Black Hawk's grave at Spring Lake. His mortal remains were on public display in the window of a hardware store in Spanish Fork, Utah, and for amusement later was moved to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and there remained on public display for decades. (Photo by Jothathan Canalas)
Q: Why have I never heard of the Timpanogos?
We need to be clear that Utah's Native American history has failed to tell us about the twelve-thousand-foot mountain right in the heart of Utah that was named 'Mt. Timpanogos' in honor of the Tribe. In 1776 Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante named the majestic mountain 'La Sierra Blanca de Los Timpanogos' (translation: The white mountain of the Timpanogos). (See: The UTAH BLACK HAWK WAR; A Detailed Synopsis for more information)
Q: So, who and what caused the Black Hawk War...?
Some say it was because "they stole our cattle." The truth is Mormon colonists were killing Indian people and stealing their land before the Timpanogos stole any Mormon beef.
To fully understand the inculturation of early Christian-led colonists who brought devastation to Native Americans of Utah and across the Americas. It begins with the Doctrine of Discovery; Christian Monarchs in the 1200s declared anyone who did not believe in the God of the Bible or that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah was deemed "heathens," "infidels," and "savages." Christians believed that they were entitled to commit all manner of depredations upon them "by reason of their idolatry and sin." Followed by Andrew Jackson's systematic Indian Removal Act of 1830 and then Manifest Destiny 1839.
Blinded by their own inculturation, the Mormon church believes they have a divine obligation to convert Utah's Native Americans to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people" and would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, the cause was the Lord, the reason that the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)" and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.
Phillip B Gottfredson author of "Black Hawk's Mission of Peace"
Phillip B Gottfredson is the great-grandson of Peter Gottfredson. He collaborated with tribal leaders to share the Timpanogos' tragic story in his captivating detailed synopsis of The Utah Black Hawk War. Writing from the vantage point of the indigenous peoples of Utah is a reference point that, until now, was ignored. Author of the book Black Hawk's Mission of Peace, he has spent decades researching the war while living among First Nations people seeking to understand Native American history and culture. (Published by Archway Publishing from Simon & Schuster)
My great-grandfather Peter Gottfredson was a historian and a friend of Black Hawk. He spent much of his youth living in the camps of the Timpanogos during the Utah Black Hawk War. In 1919 Peter authored a first-hand account of the war in his book Indian Depredations in Utah.
There is much we can learn from First Nation people if only we would listen. We need each other. We need to find a pathway to forgiveness and help build that bridge between our cultures with compassion and mutual respect for human dignity. We need to help each other to heal from those trying times in our history. I wrote the book My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace for this reason. What began as a mere curiosity morphed into a spiritual journey that forever changed my life in a good way. I don't have all the answers, but I am confident that my book will help you find some good bridge-building ideas of your own, together we can pick up the torch for Black Hawk, and generations to come will thank us for having the courage to make this world a better place for all our relations.
"I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life, and the whole earth will become one circle again" said Chief Crazy Horse- Ogala Lakota.
Main menu Topics & Stories For easy access to our extensive collection of Topics & Stories on the Utah Black Hawk War.
The legacy of the Black Hawk War, and the effects that Mormon colonization had on Utah's indigenous people and culture, which is an essential part of Utah's cultural heritage.
Truth in education No matter what narrowness of mind or denominationalism we may have surrendered our commonsense to, there needs to be truth in education. Educators need to teach true Native American history as a regular part of American history. The truth must be told, regardless of what happened.
"We can forgive, but we can never forget." We should be able to walk our paths together with integrity, honesty, respecting each other, and being kind to each other. We need to talk, but we also need to stop talking and listen. From our hearts, we should talk and listen.
What about the silent victims, descendants of those who led in the massacres, those who live their entire lives in shame?